Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Learning from lurgy

May 12, 2010

I spent yesterday lunchtime in the company of a group of ladies from the University of London Intercollegiate Luncheon Club. With most sentences beginning “In London in the 50s…” I lowered the average age quite considerably. It was great though! All of them have, or had as they’re now retired, medical careers in London hospitals and they get together every so often to have lunch and listen to an invited speaker. My godmother – a former theatre nurse and midwife – took me along as her guest. “In Mile End in the 50s” where she did home births it was the prostitutes who were the best source of local info she told me! Perhaps they still are.

Hookers aside, the lecture topic was very apt considering my imminent departure for South Africa: ‘A history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)’ given by Professor Anne Johnson of UCL.

What really interests me about this is not the biology of disease (cause that’s far too complicated) but the spread of infection because of the behaviour of people and how that’s been influenced (or not) through campaigns over the 20th century. Also, seeing what behaviour change tactics have been used by public health campaigns compared to environmental messaging.

Saatchi’s Pregnant Man poster – their first famous ad that launched the agency in 1970 – is a striking image aimed at men to pointedly say “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” Nice. Simple. Good timing after the swinging sixties when STD rates increased. And now the name of Saatchi’s in-office pub in London. The model’s expression is pure Rodney Trotter in my opinion!

The pregnant man approach is in stark contrast with an earlier war time campaign aimed at troops let loose on R&R warning of unclean ‘good time girls’, that Prof Johnson talked about. Oh yes, good idea, blame the women! The campaign can’t have been effective as there was a surge in STD rates attributed to soldiers frequenting the ladies with the best local intel, even if they couldn’t understand what language they were speaking.

Then in the early 80s along came HIV. I don’t remember them, but Prof Johnson mentioned the AIDS Iceberg adverts with the straight and to the point strap “Don’t die of ignorance”. Pretty stark, but as Prof Johnson said, scare tactics do seem to work with these kinds of health issues. Possibly not the same for smoking campaigns though.

She heads up a research project surveying the sexual behaviour of the UK population and is often used as an expert to answer questions about STDs. I managed to get the following tidbits:

> One of the most effective ways of raising awareness of STDs in the UK was when someone on Eastenders got HIV. Soli at Futerra has been saying the same thing about normalising positive environmental behaviours like recycling for a long time.

> Peer education among young people has no negative effect on risky sexual behaviour (i.e. it doesn’t make them have more unprotected sex at an earlier age) although it wasn’t as successful at influencing a change in behaviour as they had hoped. Peer to peer influence in environmental campaigns is widely considered to be an effective approach – possibly because positive green behaviours are more public than intimate sexual experiences! And people are more influenced by what other people are doing than they realise they are, as evidenced by research reported in this Ecologist article.

> It’s a classic and communicators should know it well, but information alone will not change sexual health behaviour. The same goes for environmental campaigns.

> Scare tactics around sexual health risks do work. I guess as long as they are backed up with information, advice and support. Whereas, if you scare people with apocalyptic, world-ending doom and gloom imagery and scenario profiling it’s most likely to encourage them to bury their head in the sand and revel in ignorance.

I’d love to look more into the similarities/ differences/ lessons learnt from health and environmental behaviour change campaigns more… and perhaps will follow it up with some research. But if you’re interested, I can recommend checking out the work of Matchboxology on the South African government’s HIV/AIDS public behaviour change programme. And please do recommend any good reading on the matter.

It’s official though, there is definitely a lot more learning to be had from lurgy – like prostitutes, there’s intel behind people’s sexual health behaviour to be had!


A climate change poem

March 18, 2010

So many acronyms we use, which few people know,

The IPCC, ppm and the COP15 show.

It’s jargon at its heaviest and turns people off

It’s totally confusing, no wonder some scoff

At trying to engage them in reducing their C

Get outta here, they’d rather be watching Glee.


Climate change is huge in so many ways

Scientists will be studying it for the rest of their days.

But what about people who don’t do numbers,

80% cuts by 2050, carrots and… cucumbers?

It would be better if, we just told them a story

Of hope and opportunity and low-carbon glory,

Where everyone lives well and within the means

Of their environment, whether its icy or green.


Talking to an idler or doer, a campaigner or consumer,

We’ve gotta communicate climate change with a sense of humour.

Let’s make it fun and fashionable, as we would with other things,

Show how low carbon life can rock, and all the good stuff it brings.

Express yourself

August 13, 2009

When I was young(er) youth self expression was all about hanging at the local train station, mucking around on bikes listening to mix cassettes on your walkman, going to the roller disco, buying the latest single on vinyl and spending hours at Athena choosing which posters to plaster on your bedroom walls. And when we weren’t calling our friends’ houses for endless conversations (only allowed after 6pm when it was cheaper) we wrote letters – long ones on A4 lined paper with our Shaeffer fountain pens. Happy but hugely different times to today’s teens.

I loved Dan Wilson’s How 31 year olds consumer media blog post in response to 15 year old, Morgan Stanley intern Matthew Robson’s memo for the investment bank about teenage media use that hit headlines for its frank insight into teen trends.

I wish my 75 year old internet-illiterate godmother June had a wider audience for her stories about life in London in the 60s. My favourite of her how-we-did-without-personal-electronic-communication-equipment tales, is when as a nurse on call she wanted to make the most of London’s night-life. So she would tell the cinema (restaurant or bar) that she was ‘in the house’ and she’d also tell the hospital where she’d gone. If she ever needed to be bleeped while out at the pictures, they would put an announcement – like a ticker-tape running across the screen – over the top of the flick and she’d hop skip to the hospital! Genius.

As we were chatting the other day, I realised how big a fan June is of the landline phone because she doesn’t do any form of online or digital communications, and she likes to talk and feel connected. It rang a bell (sorry, Dad-like joke!) with a recent Seth Godin post in which he’s plotted different types of communication channels on two axes – bandwidth versus synchronicity. It’s definitely worth thinking about. As Seth points out, in terms of real time communications in which a high density of information is exchanged you really can’t beat the phone (including tele-conferencing and live webinars) or face-to-face contact. While at the other end of the spectrum (low bandwidth and non-interactive) you’ve got graffiti and postal mail which although doesn’t sell in the traditional sense is still an enduring form of self expression.

The old school writing on the wall concept has today been mainstreamed through Facebook walls (the choice of word ‘wall’ can’t be coincidental) complete with the Graffiti application to Myspace pages, blogs, Twitter updates and online dating profiles. All these free and accessible applications appear to have normalised public self-expression making it more a mass market phenomenon. I wonder how this sits with the traditional arts of creative expression – painters, journalists, novelists, artists, photographers, etc.

One example of art meeting self expression is the Walking in My Mind exhibition advertising along the Southbank this summer. A number of the trees have been wrapped in red material with white dots. Very striking indeed. Emily Wilkinson has some great photos of them on her blog. Note in these pictures they haven’t been graffitied. Last night I was at the NFT and while waiting for a friend took a closer look at the now completely defaced tree wrappings. I wonder how and when the graffiti trend tipped. Who started it? When was the critical mass of tags, doodles and comments reached that it no longer became wrong but was the normal thing to do? Even the sign requesting people respect the art work has been defaced! Or maybe it was intentional?


At least someone learnt something from their graffiti trial – it’s very hard to write on trees.


With new ways of expressing yourself come new rules of etiquette. From the Dom Joly “I’m on the train” mobile phone spoof to a combined top 10 for Twitter etiquette. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t indulge.

As N.W.A. rapped, “I’m expressing with my full capability…”. Just make sure this doesn’t result in you ending up “living in correctional facility”!